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Culture has often described as the mystical component to a company's competitive advantage. Culture guides people through choices on the path to generating value for a company. Yet, many companies face profound cultural challenges to innovation.

Changing organization culture can be challenging. Edgar H. Schein, in his book "Organizational Culture and Leadership" suggests a path to changing company culture for corporate innovators. The root cause lies in the way a group engrains a belief as a culture.

Groups habitually select their beliefs from a group's leader. Typically when a group is faced with a decision, a leader will offer a recommended solution. Once that solution yields a positive outcome, the group accepts the idea initially as a value but then, later on, and continually reinforced, as an assumption.

It is these set of assumptions that guides groups to recognize situations and select suitable responses. Furthermore, they function as a mechanism to reduce uncertainty and slowly convert into non-discussed rules for the group. Innovation inherently challenges assumptions and in doing so, drive the group into uncertainty. With uncertainty comes group anxiety which the group interprets as a source of pain. The group then naturally and cognitively moves to defend itself against the sources of discomfort and pain. These defence mechanisms (denial or rationalization) are more accessible to invoke than the process of validating new assumptions.

Since culture is a deeply accepted group of assumptions, an innovator must first determine the set of assumptions the organization supports. Once found, an innovator must ascertain the benefit they bring to the group. Lastly, an innovator must know how calm and diminish the rising levels of group anxiety a change might bring. In doing so, pave the way for cultural acceptance of the innovation-driven change.

Ayse Birsel writes a provocative article with the title "To come up with a good idea, start by imagining the worst possible idea". To find good ideas to enable innovation drivers, Birsel suggests that leaders should change their role. Leaders should set the boundaries then transform into a collaborator function to allow the team to solve problems in their own way. By facilitating the innovation process leaders empower far more people with a greater focus. When lead with skill, the outcome is a sustainable generation of solutions with more meaningful potential.

Birsel recommends three steps for leading innovation in this way:

1. Divergent initiating

In this freeflow process, initiators must encourage divergent thinking to generate a large number of new ideas.

2. Look ahead

Innovation leaders must have the ability to identify future problems that will need solving accurately. Once identified, these problems must be presented to the team to take problem-solving ownership. Finally, teams must possess the organizational empower to generate and implement the solutions they generate.

3. Flat rather than deep

Leaders must remove hierarchies which present friction to the problem-solving process. Cross-functional teams with high-quality connections are optimal patterns for collaborative solutioning.

While the leader's role is pivotal to any innovation team, Birsel builds a strong case for a collaborative building leader. The result is empowered teams that can maximize their combined efforts.

Establishing a sustained practice of innovation can be challenging. There are many areas a company has to perform well in to possess the ability to innovate. A company must explicitly specify what area it plans to innovate within; it needs to be able to formulate a set of goals for the innovation initiative then measure the efforts needed to reach the defined goals. Finally, a company must be able to scale and set a culture of innovation as a practice. According to de Jong, Marston, and Roth who wrote "The eight essentials of innovation", the core of the innovation process, however, is the main ingredient of innovation discovery.

Innovation discovery is the strategic ability to search and identify a differentiated business opportunity in a new market combined with the company's ability to deliver on the new proposition in such a way that the value created is attractively profitable.

For innovation meet his criteria companies needs to:

  1. Find a worthwhile problem;

  2. Have the relationships necessary to create a technology that solves the problem and;

  3. Formulate a business model that empowers it.

  4. Iterative testing, analysis and product tweaking in the coalface of market testing.

Innovation is a company-wide, strategically defined process. Without a measured way of discovering the area's of innovation, a company will struggle to reach new market opportunities effectively.

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